Spaces for Life

The ReTouch Home Improvement blog



Spaces for Life: What to know before choosing a designer

By Lance McCarthy

When you are getting ready for a project, the most important decision you will make is in picking the team. The contractor, architect and interior designer will be crucial to getting you the space you want. I’ve talked a lot about how to pick the contractor, but I wanted to share some thoughts on how to choose the interior designer. I’ve worked with dozens of designers over the years, and some of those experiences have been incredible while some make a project even more challenging for everyone involved. Here are some of the things I’ve learned.

Would I date them?

I’m joking. You shouldn’t ask that question, especially if you are talking to your spouse. But what I mean is that chemistry is very important. A talented designer can still fail if they don’t click well with you. The designer and you will need to talk about some pretty intimate things–how you shower, what your morning routine is like, what makes you happy and sad. You want to person across from you at the table to be someone you can easily be completely open with.

Artist or Advisor

I believe designers tend to be either more “artist” or more “advisor”. Watch how they act in the first 5 minutes to know for certain. This is the time an artist starts telling you what they want to see happen in the project, while an advisor will spend that time learning what you are trying to accomplish. You should decide which of those personalities you want to work with.

Know the Difference

Designers are required to have formal training and licensing. They can address anything inside a space–from curtains to doors. A decorator does not need to have formal training, and is limited to the furnishing of a space. Think of the things that can change without moving walls.

What is the goal

This may sound obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people hire a designer without having a clear answer to this question. And I don’t mean “to help us pick stuff”. I mean what do you want the space to do for you? How do you want it to feel? Why are you doing the project in the first place? What will need to happen for you to feel like they were successful?

How much help do you want?

A designer can do as much or as little as you want. Maybe that is one meeting to sketch some concepts for a vanity. Or maybe it is in depth work helping to choose lighting plans, paint colors and even fabrics. The more a good designer is involved, the better the overall feel of the project usually is.


I have found that if a designer’s main quality is working within a budget, they are probably not bringing you the best design ideas. However, they should still be minding the budget. Ask them how they handle the challenge of managing a project budget.

Do you have more questions, or want my list of favorite designers? Just email me at

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